Places to visit in buon ma thuot

Yok Don National Park

Yok Don National Park covers 115,545 hectares, and boasts being the largest, protected, dry deciduous forest in Vietnam, hosting an abundance of wildlife, including the endangered black-shanked duoc langur, according to the official literature. It has numerous trails that make for good day trips and overnight camping trips, but it’s only recommended to visit between October and December. As for the abundant wildlife, word is that most treks don’t come across any of it, though the treks themselves are good enough to compensate.

A guide is required to explore the park, which is close to what are considered to be sensitive areas near the Cambodian border, so most people arrange a tour out of Buon Ma Thuot that includes transport and a guide. This can be rather pricey, and you do have the option of showing up at the park on your own and trying to hire one of the guides based there — if one is available. A guide should cost 300,000 VND for one day, including a boat ride across the Serepok River to the park, with food and water not included.

To get to Yok Don on your own, take a city bus that leaves from a bus stop on Ly Thuong Kiet St just south of Cafe 50A. It costs 10,000 VND. It’s a short walk from the main road where the bus drops you to the park entrance. If you have your own transport, from the town centre, head east on Phan Boi Chau St which turns into Route 1. There are a couple of forks, but it should be obvious where the main road is — if you’re unsure, ask the locals for ‘Ban Don,’ which is the district you’re heading to — they all know where it is. The park is 40km from Buon Ma Thuot. There’s a big, old sign marking an alternate entrance to the park 6km south of the main entrance — just ignore that. You’ll then pass the entrance to Ban Don, and then the real park entrance is about 4km further north. Admission to the park is 3,000 VND. Tours through an agency in Buon Ma Thuot start at US$60 for two people, including transport and guide, but not entrance fees, food, water nor accommodation. If you plan to camp in the park, you’ll have to bring your own tent — the park’s tents are all falling apart and they don’t rent them out anymore.

Tips: 40km from Buon Ma Thuot

How to get there: To get to Yok Don on your own, city buses leave from a bus stop on Ly Thuong Kiet St just south of Cafe 50A and cost 10,000 VND. It’s a short walk from the main road where the bus drops you to the park entrance. If you have your own transport, from the town centre, head east on Phan Boi Chau St which turns into Route 1. There are a couple of forks, but it should be obvious where the main road is — if you’re unsure, ask the locals for ‘Buon Don,’ which is the district you’re heading to — they all know where it is. The park is 40km from Buon Ma Thuot. There’s a big, old sign marking an alternate entrance to the park 6km south of the main entrance — just ignore that. You’ll then pass the entrance to Ban Don, and then the real park entrance is about 4km further north. Admission to the park is 3,000 VND.

Tours through an agency in Buon Ma Thuot start at US$60 for two people, including transport and guide, but not entrance fees, food, water nor accommodation. If you plan to camp in the park, you’ll have to bring your own tent — the park’s tents are all falling apart and they don’t rent them out anymore.

Ban Don Village

Nestled in a crook of the Serepok River, just across the water from the Yok Don National Park, the ‘Ede’ village of Ban Don is on display for visitors. We found it to be a bit of a Potemkin’s village, set up to please tourists and distract them from real minority villages in the area where they might get a peek at the ongoing tensions between the local tribes and Vietnamese government.

It’s a pleasant enough spot — there’s a traditional longhouse full of souvenirs to buy, and the tribespeople that work there spend the day putting on musical shows using traditional instruments for group after group of tourists. It’s all contrived and a bit awkward for our taste.

This is the place to head for elephant rides, which include fording across the Serepok River, which is pretty cool. Rides are 300,000 VND per hour if you show up without booking through a tour agency. The elephants can hold two to three people, depending on their girth (the passengers, not the elephants). There’s a restaurant on site that serves some of the local wild game (legally? We’re not sure). Stilt house homestays are also available for US$5 per night in basic but attractive little huts that come with squat toilets and mattresses on the floor with mosquito nets. You can also arrange to cross over to Yok Don from here for a trek through the park.

Tips: How to get there?

To get here on your own, follow the directions to Yok Don — the turn-off is well-marked, 3.8km before the entrance to the park. It’s another 1.7km to the village itself (the sign says 800 metres, but that’s wishful thinking).

Waterfalls

The key waterfalls are all to the south of Buon Ma Thuot, and a visit makes for a good day trip. Take note: all of these waterfalls are much less impressive in the dry season. The pretty pictures you see of these falls were taken towards the end of the rainy season, and that’s the best time to go.

Trinh Nu

The Trinh Nu waterfall is pretty tiny — the huge limestone boulders that line the river shore are far more impressive than the falls themselves. Nevertheless, an attempt is ongoing to turn it into a resort. Some decent accommodation, including longhouse homestays, are available. There are two restaurants on site, including one on a hill overlooking the water — sort of. It’s not a bad out-of-the-way place to hole up, and is in good proximity to the Gia Long and Dray Sap falls to the south. The direct contact numbers for the falls and accommodation there are T: (050) 882 587 F: (050) 882 167

Dray Sap and Dray Nur

Dray Sap is the star attraction — where a collection of rivers and streams cascade over the cliff. The main river is fairly massive, if a little brown, and the surrounding streams and backwaters aren’t so tempting for swimming. There are two paths leading to the right — the one at the bottom of the steps offers better views. The path winds along the falls and up to the top, about 2km all up. You can’t quite get all the way across the top of the falls — some of the smaller streams are navigable, but the big one can’t be forded, even in dry season. Along the path, before you reach the falls, there’s a suspension bridge that leads over to the sister falls, Dray Nur, which are dwarfed in comparison. There’s a cafe on site here. Admission of 8,000 VND, gives access to both falls. The direct contact number is (050) 584 605.

Tips: How to get there?

Getting to the falls by public transport is a bit tricky, but possible. Buses leave from Le Hong Phong St right in front of the San Van Dong Stadium, but they can only let you off at the fork along route 14, 22km from Buon Ma Thuot. From there it’s 5km to the entrance of the falls — Dray Sap and Dray Nur is within walking distance. You can pick up a xe-om at the crossroads if you’re not up for that much hiking, and you’ll probably save a bit of money as compared to hiring a guide directly from Buon Ma Thuot.

To get there with your own transport, starting at the roundabout, head south on Le Duan (route 14) for 22km. There’s a fork there — bear left. Trinh Nu is just a kilometre down the road on the left. Five kilometres further down is the entrance to Dray Sap and Dray Nur waterfalls. One km into the park there’s a well-marked left-hand turn to Dray Sap and Dray Nur.

Lak Lake (Ho Lak) and M’nong Village

Lak Lake is about 50km to the southeast of Buon Ma Thuot, and is firmly established on the itineraries of most of the group tour operations in the area. It’s a large, scenic lake and there are enough activities going on around it to keep you busy for a day or two if want to do everything. Activities are based out of the tourist village on the southern side of the lake. The village has three-star accommodation, with a swimming pool and a very good floating restaurant where we had a fine affordable meal. There are also a couple of traditional longhouses you can spend the night at, along with some guesthouse style rooms near the main reception building.

Activities include riding in a dugout canoe — US$10 for 2 people, they supply the rower. Gong shows with rice-wine drinking and a roast pig are available for US$60 for groups of up to 30. Elephant rides are US$30 per hour, per elephant, two passengers maximum. Trekking in the surrounding mountains is available for US$20 per person per day, and bike rentals include a map you can follow — along the route is a rocky cliff at the base of which there’s good swimming. It costs 25,000 VND for 1/2 day, 40,000 for a full day, or 10,000 per hour. A M’nong village 1.6km further down the main road from the lake can also be visited, but it’s not much of a stand out as far as ethnic villages in the area go.

Tips: 50km southeast of Buon Ma Thuot

How to get there: If you have your own transport, you can reach Lak Lake by heading north from the roundabout on Nguyen Tat Thanh St in Buon Ma Thuot. About two kms up the road is Nguyen Van Cu St — take a right. About 2.5 km down the road there’s a turnoff for Route 27 which leads 47km down to Lak Lake. Some of the road is still fairly rough, but the views are quite scenic. When you get to the lake, circle around to the far side to find the facilities and accommodation. It’s cheap and easy, though time-consuming, to get here by local bus as well. Buses leave from Phan Dinh Giot St, which is south of the traffic circle, just south of Buon Ma Thuot’s post office. Buses leave from the south side of the street near the intersection with Le Hong Phong: 10,000 VND, makes a lot of stops, takes about two hours. From Lak Lake you can flag down any northbound bus heading up route 27. You can arrange tours of the lake from Buon Ma Thuot or contact Lak Lake Tourist directly. Lak Lake Tourist: T: (050) 586 184, 550 F: (050) 586 343.

Lak Lake Tourist: T: (050) 586 184, 550 F: (050) 586 343. http://www.daklaktourist.com.vn.

Ethnographic Museum

This museum displays clothing and cultural artefacts created by some of the local tribes. All the displays provide helpful explanations in English as to what you’re looking at. It’s not the kind of museum that would appeal to everyone, but for those who are very curious about the local ethnic cultures, there’s a good range of things to look at and wonder over. To get there, head down Le Duan about 800m and take a right on Y Nong St — it’s in the park just on the right.

Tips: Y Nong St, Buon Ma Thuot.

Opening Hours: Daily: 07:30 to 11:00 & 14:30 to 17:00

Museum of the Revolution

The Museum of the Revolution, near the roundabout, is just a room full of pictures with captions in Vietnamese only, and one purposeless diorama. The only foreigners we can imagine getting anything out of it would have to speak Vietnamese and be working on a PhD in Vietnamese history. As for the rest of us, the most exciting thing about it is the single piece of heavy artillery mounted out front. We strongly recommend skipping it altogether but in case you’re that PhD student, it’s just south of the roundabout on the left hand side of Le Duan Street.

Tips: Le Duan St, Buon Ma Thuot

Opening Hours: 07:30 to 11:00 & 14:30 to 17:00

Dak Lak Water Park

The water park (Cong Vien Nuoc Dak Lak) has some pretty impressive slides — you can see the artificial mountain they sluice down from the street as you head north on Nguyen Tat Thanh. The park is located just before the bus station. On weekdays you’ll have the place mostly to yourself — things pick up on the weekends. Food and drinks are available inside the park.

Tips: Nguyen Tat Thanh, Buon Ma Thuot.

Opening Hours: Daily: 08:00 to 17:30.

Ako Dhong Village

If you’re only going to visit one Ede village while you’re in Buon Ma Thuot, the Ako Dhong Village offers an easy and worthwhile experience. It’s on a street on the outskirts of town, and on either side are series of longhouses on stilts built in the traditional style. The way they’re laid out is weirdly reminiscent of a housing tract, but pretty nonetheless. A lot of the longhouse owners moved into traditional Vietnamese-style concrete houses built on the back of their property — you won’t exactly get immersed in Ede culture here, but it’s a passable way to kill a few hours.

Tips: Outskirts of town.

How to get there: To get here, head north on Phan Chu Trinh St for a bit less than a kilometre from the roundabout. Take a left on Nguyen Dinh Chieu St and the village starts about 800m further down at the bend in the road.

Bowling

Just for the heck of it, we though we’d point out that there’s a bowling alley in Buon Ma Thuot. Saigon Star Bowling and Coffee is a small place — with just eight lanes — but it also offers pool tables and doubles as a cafe. Okay, not exactly an exotic Asian adventure, but have you ever bowled in Vietnam? Isn’t it time to cross that off your to-do list? It only costs 25,000 VND per game. Play three games, get the fourth free.

Tips

12 Truong Chinh St, Buon Ma Thuot

Opening Hours: Daily 06:00 to 23:00

About Buon Ma Thuot

Buon Ma Thuot draws tourists because of the tour and trekking opportunities in the immediate area. But, we have to admit, compared to what’s available elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the offerings here don’t really compare.

If you’ve seen the stunning waterfalls of Laos, the ones here are muddy, less tempting to swim in, and not as picturesque. The elephant riding is good, but expensive, and if you’re headed to Laos or Thailand, you’ll probably get a better experience there. The homestay experience is available in longhouses at key destinations, but there’s nothing authentic going on in these places. Even the well-travelled treks to Karen villages outside Chiang Mai in Thailand offer a more rewarding experience of indigenous cultures. And the main park here, Yok Don National Park, is only good for trekking between October and December — the rest of the year is either too wet or too hot, and even then there have been a lot of complaints by trekkers that they never actually see any animals during their trip.

Guided tours of the sites below can be arranged through tour agencies in town. The emphasis here is on large group tours, so those travelling in small groups will find the prices a bit steep, but they’ll pretty much let you create your own tour and then name a price. We found that Dak Lak Tourist, the provincial tourism office, was the most expensive. You’ll do better heading to Dam San Tourist — you’ll still end up paying US$30 to 40 per person per day for guide and transport, not including meals and accommodation, but that’s about as good as it gets here in Buon Ma Thuot. They also rent motorbikes for 100,000 VND per day and they’ll happily point you in the right direction if you want to explore on your own. The head guide here, Mr Tam (pronounced ‘tum’), is a friendly guy who speaks English quite well.

Daklak Tourist: 03 Phan Chu Trinh, Buon Ma Thuot. T: (050) 852 108, F: (050) 852 865. daklaktour @ dnh.vnn.vn

Dam San Tourist: 212-214 Nguyen Cong Tru St, Buon Ma Thuot. T: (050) 852 506, F: (050) 852 309.

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